Updated Thu, Dec 13, 2012 1:34 am
Grizzly Bear, Shields: A thematically rich and instrumentally textured album, which finds Grizzly Bear at their most focused and majestically concise. With a greater eye towards writing intelligent and taut, produced pop songs, they vaulted out beyond the shadow of 2009’s Vecktameist to become one of indie rock’s most intriguing and engaging bands.
The Walkmen, Heaven: Easily one of the most beautiful records of the year, ranging from the moody to the majestic. The Walkmen managed to produce their best record to date, with glorious and shimmering guitar-pop, intertwined with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s more refined and nuanced vocal delivery. Some of their best tracks to date are on here including "Heartbreaker" and "Love is Luck."
Tame Impala, Lonerism: Ariel Pink (who also had a great record this year)-meets Flaming Lips-meets Of Montreal-meets The Pretty Things. This is a fantastic trip through pastoral psychedelia, with seismic production and ingenious hooks. Along with JD McPherson (see below), this album seemed to appear out of another era.
JD McPherson, Signs and Signifiers: A true gem. Raw and unbridled guitar-based rock and roll that sounds like it’s being spun out of a jukebox from 1955. McPherson’s purist rock and roll is Bo Diddley, Link Wray, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke all wrapped up, played through an AM radio of a beat-up pickup truck cruising down Route 66.
Jack White, Blunderbuss: The former White Striper made this due to a cancelled studio session; we get the benefit of his best album in years. Ranging from acoustic and piano-driven balladry to distortion-soaked singles, Jack White shows why he is still at the top of his game. The single "Sixteen Saltines" can stand on equal footing with his best rockers from The White Stripes days.
Dr. John, Locked Down: Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys urged Dr. John to return to the "swampy" sounds of his earlier records. The result is this brilliant album, hewn with deep grooves, soulful mediations on surviving the American dream and ace musicianship. The record was largely improvised, with Dr. John crafting his lyrics as the songs formed in the studio.
The Antlers, Undersea: This four-song EP did more for me than most of the other full-length records I heard this year. Murky, ambient and melodic, these songs seem to string together as one long journey through dark musical corridors shaded with delayed guitars and shrouded vocals. The title of the track "Endless Ladder" is an apt summary statement for the whole album.
The Shins, Port of Morrow: After a hiatus, James Mercer's stint with Broken Bells and a new line-up, The Shins returned back to form with Mercer delivering catchy songs wrapped in world-weary lyricism. The single "Simple Song" is one of my favorite songs of the year.
Japandroids, Celebration Rock: The title says it all. If you want to put on a record that puts your fist in the air and a smile on your face, this is it. Indie-rock guitars, chanting choruses and driving drums engulf this song-driven record. A standout release from this rising band.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!: As far as epic post-rock goes, these lengthy noise explorations are ingenious and utterly captivating. Woven through with chaotic middle eastern motifs, dissonant strings and deafening drumming, GYBE winds its way through the outer edges of the apocalyptic present.
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball: To be honest, I had written off Bruce Springsteen after the barely listenable Working on a Dream. But after I read the early reviews of Wrecking Ball, I decided to give it a chance. This is easily Springsteen’s best record in nearly 20 years; it finds him in top lyrical fashion, taking aim at the economic injustices of our time and emerging with a record of rocking moral clarity and indignation.
Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls: At this year’s South by Southwest Conference, there was no other band with as much buzz as Alabama Shakes. The single "Hold On" is a suitable demonstration of the promise of this young band, with lead singer Brittany Howard showing off her impressive vocals and her bandmates paying homage to the deep southern soul of decades past.
Josh Antonuccio is a music producer, engineer and instructor who owns 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio. He can also be found around town performing with his band Scubadog.